Busted Halo
April 19th, 2009

100 words (give or take) on… Virgin Birth



Catholics believe that Mary, the mother of Jesus, became pregnant not through a sexual encounter with a man, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph was betrothed to a woman who was pregnant and he knew he was not the father. He was troubled. God spoke to Joseph in a dream telling him, “that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:20)

Many people, when they encounter this piece of Catholic tradition, have doubts that it could happen. Some even point to other pagan gods being born of virgins and suggest the possibility that Catholicism borrowed from these legends — especially since there is no mention of Mary’s virginity in Mark’s Gospel, the oldest of the four gospels.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, however, states the following:

Some might wonder if we were merely dealing with legends or theological constructs not claiming to be history. To this we must respond: Faith in the virginal conception of Jesus met with the lively opposition, mockery or incomprehension of non-believers, Jews and pagans alike;151 so it could hardly have been motivated by pagan mythology or by some adaptation to the ideas of the age. The meaning of this event is accessible only to faith, which understands in it the “connection of these mysteries with one another.”

The Author : Mike Hayes
Mike Hayes is the senior editor for the Googling God section at BustedHalo.com.
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  • zach t

    interesting questions, but personally with all the amazing things god has done with his awesome power, from parting seas, to raising the dead, to creating a great flood, taking things on faith is not really a problem. Even a Virgin birth.

  • Jerry

    In view of your post, you may find these articles on virgin birth of interest and coming from an unusual angle

    and, similarly TheologyWeb:

    Forum — General Theistics 101
    Thread — Does the Bible teach that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived?


    (Best to click on arrow on right which will take you to the last post.)

  • artie

    Why would we assume that Mary was a “dedicated” virgin to the Temple ? Is there any indication in Scripture ? In fact they speak of Jesus’ brothers. I know that many have interpreted this to mean “kinsmen”–but it also means “brothers”. Marriage and children, not virginity, was the highest calling for Jewish men and women. In fact a husband could divorce his wife and marry another if his wife “failed” to produce children in the marriage. Children were considered the greatest blessing from God, and in fact were the way most Jewish people defined eternal life. For Mary and Joseph to be betrothed and married, for the two of them to travel together to Jerusalem with their Son, for Mary to be counted among the women followers of Jesus…she clearly lived “in the world” as His greatest disciple.
    The “union” with God would not preclude a beautiful, happy, fulfilling life as a real live woman with Joseph at her side in the Jewish tradition of the time.
    I’m still not convinced of the “ever-virgin” title because rather than “raising “Mary up in holiness, it makes her seem less than fully human.
    Women who take vows of celibacy do so primarily to live in community and to be free of the responsibilities of husband and children to serve God directly. Married women embrace a sexual life with their husbands as a way to love them, bring children into the world ( if so blessed) and serve God in that way. Mary achieving full communion with God during her lifetime is a theological construct to support a preconceived belief. We know so little about Mary that speculation is rife.

  • Alison

    Artie – that’s a question that’s been bugging me for years. I finally found an answer that satisfied me so maybe it will for you too…

    As Catholics, we believe that marriage is a Sacrament. This means marriage is a “visible sign that points us to an invisible reality.” The invisible reality, or the mystery as St. Paul calls it in Eph. 5, is the relationship of Christ to us, His Church. Christ is the bridegroom, we are the Bride (see Rev. 19). Earthly marriage is not an end (a source of true fullfillment in and of itself) but a sign that points us to the meaning of our entire existence – full communion with Christ.

    That being said… since Mary already had full communion with Christ in a very real and physical way, to be in a marital union with Joseph would be a step backwards. (And no offense to Joseph, he knew he couldn’t compete with the Lord. Plus, if I was Joseph, I don’t think I would be able to have marital relations with Mary… that woman was the most holy vessel ever created, I wouldn’t feel worthy!)

    I’ve also been told that all along Mary had dedicated herself as a virgin to the Temple, so Joseph wasn’t marrying her expecting her to be the mother of his kids. Joseph was likely also dedicated to the Temple as a virgin and took on this relationship with Mary for practical reasons of support and protection. When Joseph was troubled, it was probably for two reasons – one that he didn’t want Mary, a consecrated virgin and his friend, to be stoned to death for her pregnancy and two that he knew from the start that this child was a miracle and he was in for a very different life than the life he expected to live.

    I don’t have Catechism quotes to back me up on this one. It was explained to me by a CFR named Fr. Joseph Mary, so I just took his word on it! It made sense to me.

  • artie

    Why do Catholics believe that Mary was a virgin AFTER she gave birth to Jesus ? What would have been so bad about her being a real wife–in every sense of the word and in every religious construct–to Joseph ? Joseph was a real man who loved a real woman. Isn’t that what marriage is all about –the intimacy that one does not share with anyone else. When I think of Mary being “ever-virgin” I can’t help but feel sorry for Joseph.

  • Pamela

    When I put myself in Mary’s place at that time in history I can see God’s hand all over the situation. Can you imagine the conversation between Mary and Joseph concerning the pregnancy? And the families? Not to mention the town gossips…. the hand of God was on both of them…Joseph to be understanding And Mary for courage and strength..could you have been either one of them?

  • Phil Little

    What’s the point? Virgin birth as a concept is not essential nor related to the message of Jesus. It was added to one gospel based on a poor translation of Isaiah (7:14). The entire canon of Mariology is a construct that deviates from the message of Jesus, but suits a clergy dominated institution whose structures and priorities (since Constantine) have been at odds with the Galilean preacher. Quoting the catechism is like quoting the back of the Kellogg’s cereal box on nutrition – but hardly informative. When the purpose of the infancy narratives is sought, we come to an understanding of how the early Christian communities esteemed Jesus whom they came to believe was the Messiah – obviously someone who merited some celestial adulation if not elevation. The libraries filled with books on Mary show the creative spirit in Catholicism – but in the end any theologian will have to admit that the only thing we know about Mary is that Jesus had a mother and her name very well could have been Mary or some Hebrew variation of it. Everything else is speculation, devotion and indeed misogynist elevation by a male power circle that belittles all women who cannot attain such an impossible status as “virgin and mother”.

  • Vivian

    Meaning… and this isn’t Mary Johnson, it’s Vivian… the opposition, mockery or incomprehension of non-believers, Jews and pagans may lower the likelihood of the Catholic Church “borrowing” a legend, but it does not prove or disprove a virgin birth. As a Catholic, I need to take this one “on faith,”

  • Mike Hayes


  • Mary Johnson

    poor logic, good faith

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